The Hillsdale College Chargers had three conference champions and placed second in the Great Midwest & Mountain East Conference in Canton, Ohio this past weekend. Head coach Kurt Kirner was also awarded G‑MAC Coach of the Year and Hillsdale won its first ever 400 medley relay team G‑MAC title.
This year the Chargers fought against 10 teams at the NCAA Division II conference, including their biggest rival University of Findlay, but winning a score of 1572 points still brought them short, and the Chargers fell against Findlay again. Yet despite this lost, the athletes still won 21 medals and swam 44 personal best and 52 season best times.
Grateful to everyone involved, Kirner said the award is truly a team reward and he couldn’t have gotten it without the team’s help.
“It’s a reflection of my staff, especially Zoe Tracey [assistant swim coach] and the team,” Kirner said. “Good efforts involve great people.”
Kirner is not just a great coach but also an amazing person to the team, said freshman Stefanie Walker. She said he constantly teaches them to become great swimmers and people, teaching them lessons beyond the swimming pool.
“He has a great character to him, and his ultimate goal isn’t to make us better swimmers, but better people overall,” Walker said. “He definitely succeeds in that goal.”
Freshman Anna Clark said Kirner’s award is well-deserved. With his passion for swim and love for the team, Kirner always inspires the team with great confidence and energy, Clark said.
“It’s obvious that he loves the sport when you talk to him and our team so much, and I always trust him whenever he says something about my technique or race strategy,” Clark said. “He said the award wouldn’t be possible without the team, but the team wouldn’t be possible without him.”
Sophomore Katherine Heeres ended the meet with a strong finish. She won the 200 backstroke champion for the second time while breaking her third school record; she broke all three within those four days. Heeres said she focuses on her personalized strategy for backstroke, which differs from most swimmers, and getting comfortable with applying it in races. This helped her significantly.
“I was able to notch a season-best and three personal bests each, which also set school records,” Heeres said. “The 200 backstroke is my absolute favorite event, which made it twice as exciting to win.”
Adding more to their victories, senior Anika Ellingson won first in the 100 breastroke within 1 minute and 2.83 seconds— 0.68 less than her Findlay competitor. Keeping up her sprinting tempo up as long as possible, Ellingson said, was crucial to this win.
“You can’t die off on the the back 50 yards of the race,” Ellingson said. “That being said, utilizing your time underwater instead of on the surface is key in your race. My coaches and I really focused on those small sections of the race because that’s where you can catch up and pull ahead.”
The Chargers also shone first in the 400 medley relay champions with Heeres, Ellingson, senior Suzanne DeTar, and junior Catherine Voisin. The high stakes and direct teamwork are what made this race enjoyable, Heeres said. With DeTar and Ellingson as seniors, Heeres said this win was a great way to send them off at the end of their swimming career.
“‘The Band,’ as we have been referring to that relay all year, has been so much fun together and they are some of my best friends on the team,” Heeres said. “I’m proud to have won Hillsdale’s first 400 medley relay team G‑MAC title with those ladies by my side.”
After swimming her first G‑MAC meet, Clark said the overall event was thrilling. Clark placed in the top eight in all of her events, including third in 200 butterfly, and swam four lifetime bests. Now that the season is over for most of them, Clark said she already misses practicing and competing with the team.
“We gave Findlay some serious competition and I was happy to help contribute to our success and score points,” Clark said. “Everyone stepped it up and swam some inspiringly fast races. It was so fun to support and cheer each other on.”
Despite their outstanding results, racing for four days proved to be very challenging. Not only was it physically draining, but the duration affected them emotionally and mentally, Heeres said.
“I think I speak for the whole team when I say that none of us could do it on our own; we all needed the support from each and every girl,” Heeres said. “As I did last year, I came out of this weekend with a deeper appreciation for the team. There is truly no other team that I would rather be on than this one, right here.”
After the G‑MACs, Kirner said Ellingson is the only one qualified to compete at the NCAA Division II Championships. However, there might be a chance for Heeres to swim as well. For now, Kirner said he plans to keep Ellingson prepared for this meet.
“There’s always a bittersweet aspect of the end of another season,” Heeres said. “But this conclusion held an extra special sweetness that none of us are likely to forget anytime soon.”